Working Paper 43
Grounding the European Public Sphere. Looking Beyond the Mass Media to Digitally Mediated Issue Publics
The gold standard for discussing public spheres has long been established around mass media, with the prestige print press given a privileged place. Yet when it comes to a European public sphere, the mass media are also problematic, or at least incomplete, in several ways: relatively few EU-wide issues are replicated in the national media of EU countries, the discourses on those issues are dominated primarily by elites (with relatively few civil society voices included in the news), and public attention is seldom paid to EU issues beyond a select few (money, agriculture, political integration, scandals), creating a distant ‘gallery public.’ At the same time, many important political issues such as trade and economic justice, development policy, environment and climate change policy, human rights, and military interventions, among others, are being addressed more actively by networks of civil society actors both within and across EU national borders. These networks utilize the Internet and various interactive digital media to publicize their issues, engage active publics, and contest competing policy perspectives not only within specific issue networks, but across solidarity networks involving other policy issues, and with political targets at national and EU levels. This dimension of the EU public sphere has received relatively little attention from observers, and when it has been explored, it is often dismissed as less inclusive, and therefore less significant than the somewhat reified mass media model. This analysis compares networked, digitally mediated public issue spheres with the mass mediated model, points out ways in which the two types of public sphere are complementary, and also shows how networked issue spheres may be the sites of greater citizen and civil society engagement in keeping with more classical models of public spheres.